The Gallo's Blue Stone Rocks by Mike Kane
When it came time for the interviews that launched his career in the Thoroughbred business, Tom Gallo turned to his wife, Mia, for help. She delivered in a big way.
The combination of Mia Gallo's background riding horses and being a niece of Mary Odom, owner of the now-defunct Marydel Farm in Middletown, Del., and Tom Gallo's curiosity and outgoing personality sent them down a path toward a life's work they really hadn't considered. For two decades, they have owned and operated Blue Stone Farm in Cambridge N.Y., near the Vermont border, 21 miles east of Saratoga Race Course. Through the years, he has developed Thomas J. Gallo III Bloodstock Agency, a multi-service company, and become heavily involved in New York's breeding program. Gallo has been on the board of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders and the chairman of its sales committee since 1996.
In 1975, quite by accident, the Gallos stumbled across Tilly Foster Farm in Brewster, N.Y., less than an hour north of New York City. The young couple and their infant son had recently left Manhattan for suburban Putnam County and were working at a riding farm in Fishkill owned by an IBM executive. While driving around the area on an off day, they stopped to talk about buying a used Land Rover and met Larry Dellay, the assistant manager at Tilly Foster Farm.
Dellay told them he was heading home to Kentucky soon because the foaling season was over and that his job would be open. Gallo expressed an interest and Dellay arranged an interview with farm manager Roberto Lira. Taken by the beauty of the farm and the lovely house that went with the job, the Gallos conspired on how to handle the meeting with Lira.
"She's talking to Roberto and brings up the fact that her aunt is Mary Odom. That's all she had to say. Roberto knows Mary Odom. I don't know what kind of weight that carries. I don't know the higher echelons of the Thoroughbred world. All I know is my wife and this manager are having a very heated conversation, it's becoming animated, and they're both smiling."
That conversation led to an appointment the next day to spend some time working around the horses with Dellay. Again, the Gallos prepared.
"My wife takes me in the barn at the stable we're working at and puts me through everything," Gallo, 47, said. "She's giving me Horse Husbandry 101 the night before. It's a crash course."
The tips on how to lead a horse, where to stand, and how to pick up a leg to inspect a hoof came in handy.
"I was very comfortable and everything she showed me he wanted me to do," Gallo said. "I did all the stuff right."
That quick stop to take a look at the Land Rover turned out to be a life-changing decision.
"The day we got the job she and I went out and celebrated," Gallo said. "It was a big day for both of us because it was such a beautiful farm. It was like going from the city to the country, but going into Shangri-la."
The Gallos met at a small dinner party, began dating, and eloped. He was working part-time for his father in the family business, Danielle Linen Service, while trying to become a commercial photographer. She was in a pre-med program at Hunter College.
As the oldest of six children and the only son in the family, Gallo said "it was written in stone" that he would take over the business, which services restaurants and hotels in metropolitan New York from its base in Yonkers. He said he began folding towels during the summers when he was in elementary school. When he was in his teens, he was riding into Manhattan on the company's trucks and talking with customers.
"I had high ideals," he said. "I just wanted to please people. They were so nice to me. If they needed this or needed that I would give it to them. Well, my dad was very conservative and would say, 'Don't give them that, wait until they wear it out,' because he's running a business.
"So he's right, but I'm also right. The problem was we were such different polarities, two different ends of the spectrum, me being totally altruistic and him being totally practical that we were constantly at odds.
"I had to elope and I had to leave because it was the only way I could escape. It was either escape and leave in such an abrupt way or be miserable for the rest of my life because I just couldn't do this. I couldn't live like that and couldn't do that. It wasn't part of me like it was of him."
Following the birth of their son, Adrien, the Gallos decided to leave the city. They spent about a month at the riding stable before the Land Rover reached out and grabbed them.
In 1977, after two years at Tilly Foster, they packed their belongings and headed to Kentucky and the prospect of a job at Spendthrift Farm. Again, Dellay was the link to the opportunity and told the Gallos it would be easier to find work than a place to live. After a couple of weeks in a motel in Paris, Ky., Gallo succeeded in finding a house by approaching a stranger at a gas station.
Gallo started out at Spendthrift's training center and spent some time with the yearlings and as a swing groom with the stallions. He moved over to Lee Eaton's farm, where he worked around lay-up horses and prepared yearlings for the sales. For the young New Yorker, who didn't know a great deal about pedigrees and conformation a few years earlier, the time he spent on the farms made quite an impression.
"You had all these horses as babies, so you were experiencing the blood," he said. "You were exposed to the horses that went on to really make an impact on the whole breed and you had them in your hands.
"That sticks in your mind. When you're around the superior animals the model forms in your mind, I think. That raises the standards or starts to affect the standards that you have when you're looking at horses later on because you've been with a good horse."
Gallo had a few other jobs in Kentucky, including a brief tour with a racing stable at Keeneland, before moving his family to Aiken, S.C., in 1979. He went to work for Thomas Mellon Evans' Buckland Farm stable.
"They had just bought a barn," Gallo said. "It was their first year there and they were hiring. They hired me."
It was a good job, Gallo said, because Buckland was paying its grooms $40 to $50 more a week than the other stables.
"Then if you did extra work they paid you time and a half," he said. "I would stay late for the blacksmith, stay late for the vet.
"I ended up making more than the assistant trainer, since he was on salary, but at the same time I was learning all these things, sort of expanding my repertoire."
In the spring of 1980, Gallo left for New York with Buckland's racing operation and was living and working at Belmont Park. That year, his father's plant burned to the ground.
"He called me and said, 'Look, I'm in desperate need here,' " Gallo said. "He knew that I knew the business and that I could help him. I really felt bad about what I had done because I wouldn't speak to him at all. You come from a close family and all of a sudden you're, what would you say, exiled? I sort of wanted to do something.
"He said, 'If you help me out, I figure if you give me a year, a year and a half, I'll do something for you. Help me get back on my feet.'
"So I did. At the time, the trainer I was working for offered me a job as assistant trainer because I had been foreman. I was moving up and with a big, big stable.
"I had to make the decision, am I going to be an assistant trainer, are we going to live down on Long Island near Belmont, which I really didn't want to do and my wife didn't want to do. We sort of wanted to go back to where we started, which was on a farm.
"I worked with my father for about two years and he helped me put the down payment on the farm in Cambridge. That's how we ended up having our own place and really breaking out on our own and doing our own thing."
Gallo said they decided to settle in Cambridge because they figured the Saratoga Springs region would become the center of the state's developing breeding program. It didn't work out quite that way, however, as many of the farms were located farther to the south in the Hudson River valley between Albany and New York. Recently, more farms have opened near Saratoga.
The Gallos purchased an 80-acre section of a dairy farm located about two miles south of the village of Cambridge on English Road, which is still a dirt road. Following instructions in a book they purchased, Tom and Mia Gallo built an eight-stall barn for their strictly homemade business.
They came up with the name for their farm when they tried to dig a trench to lay a water line from the well to the barn. Under the soil was a blue stone formation, which presented a problem that jackhammers couldn't solve. It took explosives to get the job done.
"The farm was a struggle," Gallo said. "What we started to do at first was run a boarding operation. We started picking up a lot of clients and we had a full farm. It turned out that we were sort of trading dollars for dollars trying to run a boarding operation. We had a lot of horses, two or three full-time people with all the insurances and everything else. It turned out to be a big headache.
"We got real big real fast, then scaled back real fast just because I started developing the sales business, then my season business."
Gallo's longtime friend, Lou Salerno, now the operator of Questroyal Stud, dubbed him "The Man For All Seasons," a nickname he uses in advertising himself as a broker.
"At the time there was a real niche there because the farms in Kentucky that sold shares in their stallions really weren't servicing their clients," Gallo said. "They were sort of taking care of their in-house seasons, taking care of their in-house clients, and there were a lot of people buying seasons that were sort of getting a little bit ignored for one reason or another. They were buying seasons in stallions and weren't breeding mares and ending up with seasons that they needed to sell and they weren't getting them sold. I had people calling me.
"I was actually the first one to ever advertise seasons for sale in the classified section of The Blood-Horse and the Thoroughbred Record. I got all kinds of letters. I would actually take out a classified ad and list horses' names, not with prices, of course, but seasons for sale from these stallions.
"I got phone calls. I got letters from lawyers. I got letters from syndicate managers. But I really wasn't doing anything wrong. I was just trying to service people who were sitting on seasons, $20,000 and $30,000 and $40,000 seasons, and were eating them year after year, not selling them. And they couldn't understand why. Or, farms were selling them, but at the time, because of syndicate agreements, farms had to sell them at farm price. If the horse was maybe too expensive for the market, a little cool, and the seasons weren't selling, the shareholders weren't getting their seasons sold."
Another problem Gallo dealt with was checking produce records, which he said farms were not doing, to try to protect his clients.
"What other season brokers and I would do was approve the mares because you're selling these seasons on a live-foal basis," Gallo said. "If the mare is a bad risk, the guy is going to eat the season anyway. You may send out the contract, but you'll never get the money because the mare will never have a live foal. So we would provide a service, not only doing the paperwork, but approving the mare and doing one more step."
As the Gallos downsized their farm and their four children grew older, Mia returned to college. She completed her masters degree and is now working on a doctorate. She is employed as a research scientist in Albany. Tom began expanding his bloodstock services, which now make up the bulk of his business and take him to about eight sales a year.
"The next part was buying horses, reselling them, selling horses at auctions, buying horses for people, selling horses for people at auctions, and starting to build consignments."
Gallo said he has built his business by trying to follow advice he received from Lee Eaton.
"He said, 'Tom, you've got go around and look at horses. You've got to visit with the people and look at the horses,' " Gallo said. "That's the only drawback for New York. For a guy like me, you've got to travel a lot of miles to see very few horses. In Lexington, you travel a few miles and you can see a ton of horses. You go around and try to fit people to their budget."
Gallo specializes in New York-breds, but isn't bound by the state in his team approach to breeding and raising Thoroughbreds with the 50 mares he manages for his principal clients. He uses Alan Porter of Lynnbrook, N.Y., as his pedigree consultant, ships the mares to stallions, and when they are old enough, he sends the babies to Bill and Sandy Sanborn, who operate Sanborn Chase Farm on Iron Works Pike near Lexington.
"We foal our mares out in New York, we wean them, and then we raise our babies in Kentucky," Gallo said. "The reason we do that is because my farm is 80 acres. It's probably big enough to be a good broodmare farm, but after you've worked in Kentucky and seen the way horses are raised there..."
Gallo moves directly into an anecdote about working in Kentucky and how long it took to help a friend round up yearlings at Stone Farm. He says it took them nearly 30 minutes to walk back to the barn.
"We're talking a 120- to a 150-acre field," he said. "That's how you raise a baby."
When convincing new clients about the value of sending their young horses to Kentucky, Gallo uses the analogy of gold fish--how big they grow depends on the size of their tank.
"I use that same philosophy with raising horses," he said. "They have to have room to break into an open gallop. That's what they're bred to do; they're bred to run.
"If a horse has enough room as a youngster to break into an open gallop and run, the more he runs, the more he exercises, the more hunger he develops, the more he eats, and the more he eats, the more energy he has to go out and exercise. And the more he runs.
"It's like an upward cycle. I can't profess to do that on my farm. I have 80 acres.
"In Kentucky, not only do they have the big fields, but when my babies go down there, whether they are by New York stallions or Kentucky stallions, they're down there with the horses they have to compete with in open company. They're turned out with Danzigs, with Pulpits, with A.P. Indys, with Deheres, with Holy Bulls. They're trying to keep up with or beat those horses.
"It's like pickup basketball. If every day you're playing with guys that are going to be athletes, it's going to make you play better. It's going to stretch your capabilities.
"I've got a lot of my clients doing the same thing. Foaling them in New York, making them New York-breds. This has nothing to do with raising horses in New York. It's a matter of space."
From his large, high-ceilinged office at Blue Stone, Gallo can look out over the hills to the west and south of the farm. A couple of yearlings are grazing in a paddock on the other side of the unpaved road.
Gallo has just returned from Timonium, Md., where he handled a 60-horse consignment. A conversation is interrupted every few minutes by phone calls from clients and colleagues. They all have to use conventional telephones to reach him because the cell service is spotty, at best, in this rural part of the state.
One draining sale is over and Gallo is back at work, talking about broodmares, stallions, and yearlings. He tells one caller about a mare he thinks is available and promises to fax a pedigree page that afternoon. To another he gives an estimate of the price it will take to buy a weanling who passed through the ring at Timonium.
Twenty-six years and countless deals after he and his wife were attracted to the Land Rover, which they never did buy, Gallo thrives on the challenge and the excitement of his business.
"I love selling horses," he said. "It feels like it just comes naturally." © 2002 The Bloodhorse